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The 2014 football season that began with a pair of wins for Syracuse came to a merciful end on Saturday with a fifth straight loss, a quarterback controversy and bunch of question marks heading into the offseason. 

Syracuse’s season finale concluded like so many other games throughout the year – good defense, bad offense and a few head scratching plays in between. 

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They had just a one-point lead midway through the first half – thanks to a 3-10 shooting start – and the Orange offense looked on its way to another questionable scoring output.  Syracuse didn’t make a three-pointer all night, an all-time low on a team that already struggles in that department.

The shots, again, just wouldn’t fall.

Then Kaleb Joseph drove coast-to-coast and rolled in a righty floater off the glass to give Syracuse a 10-7 lead at the 12:17 mark.  Joseph’s leaner started an overpowering 31-10 run by the Orange to end the first half. 

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The Syracuse Orange hasn’t had the most impressive offensive start to the season, by any metric.  But back home in the Carrier Dome, the Orange got a glimpse that it could be worse.

A lot worse.

The Loyola Greyhounds missed their first 13 shots of the game, unable to make a field goal until more than halfway into the first half.  Tyler Hubbard finally ended the scoring drought with a long three-pointer from the top of the key at the 8:32 mark.  By then, the Orange led 17-4.

And Syracuse fans thought their offense was bad.

The fourth quarter hasn’t been kind at all to Syracuse this season.

It’s turned back-and-forth games into blowouts, with three quarters of competitive play somehow leading to crooked scores.

Most times, it's taken a few minutes for the fourth quarter damage to kick in.  Against Pittsburgh, it only took eight seconds.  Tyler Boyd took a quick screen 49 yards, untouched, into the end zone on the first play of the quarter. It gave the Panthers a commanding 27-7 lead, one last backbreaker in a season that’s been full of them for Syracuse.

Chris McCullough’s career-high 20 points gave Syracuse its second half lead. But it turned out to be a well-timed defensive play that sealed it.

The 6-foot-10 freshman saved the game for Syracuse and avoided a near-colossal collapse to Iowa in Madison Square Garden when he intercepted a pass near the basket at the end of the game.  The Hawkeyes slashed their deficit from 15 points to one and had the ball in the final seconds.  McCullough slid over from the free throw line, intercepted an entry pass and was fouled with about nine seconds left. 

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Syracuse’s roller coaster offense finally hit a new low.

The inconsistent and, sometimes, inefficient scoring attack has already led to two close calls this season – in a preseason win over Carleton and last weekend against Hampton.  The third time, however, wasn’t the charm for Syracuse, who wasn’t as lucky in Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.

Jack Marion

The No. 4 Syracuse women’s field hockey team looks to reach its first national championship in team history on Friday afternoon.  The Orange (17-5) faces top-ranked North Carolina (19-3) in the Final Four at 2 p.m. in College Park, Md.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” head coach Ange Bradley said after beating Penn State in the quarterfinals on Saturday. 

Added Bradley, “I’m just so proud of these young women. They are a really special group.”

It’s Syracuse's second trip to the Final Four in three seasons.

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One smooth shot finally brought the tentative Carrier Dome crowd to its feet.

With nine minutes left in the game, Hampton cut Syracuse’s lead down from 11 to five and the upset bid went from a prayer to a possibility.

That’s when Trevor Cooney took a Tyler Roberson handoff and nailed a three pointer from the top of the key.  Syracuse took a 48-40 lead with 8:53 left in the game and never led by fewer than six points for the rest of the way. It was only Cooney’s second three of the game, but it came at the perfect time for the Orange. 

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Jim Boeheim knew he could rely on Rakeem Christmas for some lockdown defense.  But he may not have expected his senior center to be Syracuse’s offensive leader, as well.

With Michael Gbinije inactive for undisclosed reasons, Christmas picked up the slack and scored a career-high 21 points in Syracuse’s season opener.  It ignited the Orange to an easy 89-42 win against Kennesaw State on Friday night in the Carrier Dome.

“When he’s near the basket, he’s going to finish or get fouled,” Jim Boeheim said.  “He’s a good offensive player and he’s gotten better every year.”

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Syracuse’s 2014 bowl hopes – already diminished by back-to-back losses to Clemson and NC State – took one final blow on Saturday. 

The Orange lost to the No. 21 Duke Blue Devils, 27-10, in the Carrier Dome for its seventh loss of the season.  That means Syracuse (3-7, 1-5 ACC) no longer has a chance for bowl eligibility, after reaching the postseason in three of the past four seasons.

"It hurts," Scott Shafer said.  "It’s a difficult situation because that’s one of those goals that we wanted to come back and reach. But we didn’t. So what are you going to do?"

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